Manila Standard : Stories and lessons

20 September 2021

By Jude Acidre | Manila Standard

"Gonzaga served us well by helping Marcos—and, before him, Robredo and Diokno—share his story."

In 1995, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos was interviewed on national television. The interviewer—Kris Aquino.

Bongbong Marcos is the only son of the late strongman, Ferdinand Marcos. Kris Aquino is the daughter of Ninoy and Cory Aquino, who led a peaceful revolution to topple years of Marcos rule.

Inevitably, part of the conversation touched the sad episodes of the martial law years, albeit with a more casual and familiar tone. It was more of an exchange of “my dad” and “your dad” anecdotes.

But no uproar nor controversy ensued from what could have been a tense and intriguing interview. The audience simply watched the televised colloquy and were left to make up their minds about what they heard.

Fast forward to 2021.

Two weeks ago, Bongbong Marcos was interviewed once more, presumably timed to commemorate the birthday of former president Marcos.

The interviewer was actress Toni Gonzaga for her YouTube talk show, “Toni Talks.”

The interview, entitled “The Greatest Lesson Bongbong Marcos Learned from His Father” discussed Marcos’s life and the lessons learned from his late father.

Hours later, social media was on fire.

Toni Gonzaga was castigated online for supposedly providing a platform for the Marcos family’s attempts at historical revisionism and whitewashing their alleged human rights violations.

The Ateneo de Manila University’s Martial Law Museum even urged Gonzaga to also speak with the “victims and surviving families of the Martial Law regime.”

Critics of Toni Gonzaga probably forgot that she had previously featured opposition figures Vice President Leni Robredo and senatorial candidate Chel Diokno on her talk show.

In contemporary parlance, that online interview caused Toni Gonzaga to be effectively “cancelled.”

This makes one wonder what happened to our constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression.

What happened to the right, or daresay the responsibility of journalists to provide equal opportunities to both sides to share their mind and stories?

Or is this how deeply polarized our society has become after years of this seemingly insistent tale of the “Aquino-led redemption” from dark years of “Marcos authoritarianism.”

More than a third of today’s Filipino generation was born after the EDSA Revolution.

Many probably have not known former President Marcos except from the history textbooks they read in school.

Not too many actually know that out of his 20 years in power, Ferdinand Marcos served two elected terms as President, from 1965 to 1972. Or that martial law was lifted in 1981, ahead of the first visit of Pope John Paul II.

Marcos declared martial law in 1972 and ruled the country with an iron hand until his exile to Hawaii in 1986 is an accepted historical fact. No amount of historical revisionism can “cancel” it.

Thus, the question, “Would it hurt us so much for a son to pay tribute to his late father?”

Will a son’s memory warrant a nation’s anger?

The Toni Talks episode did not attempt to force the audience to believe Bongbong Marcos’ recollection of events or perspectives about his father.

What kind of a society would expect a son to tarnish his own father’s memory?

Whether we would believe him, though, is a judgment that we must make on our own.

All that Toni Gonzaga did was provide an opportunity for the people to see behind the persona that we have of Marcos as a former president and as a strongman—someone has always looked up to him as a son would look up to his father.

In the same way, we cannot as a nation easily “cancel” the rightful hurts and painful scars of those who suffered under martial rule, nor the hard-won gains of our restored democracy in the last 35 years.

Thanks to the EDSA Revolution, we have been able to freely exercise our right to vote for the nation’s president at least five times since 1986.

It is quite unfortunate that partisan politics will continue to force the cleavages of the past to persist into the future and perpetuate the anger of one generation to rule the sensibilities of the present.

Further polarization of our nation to the pro-Marcos and anti-Marcos sides will do no good to our present and future generations.

True, the lessons of history must be learned—and 35 years after, shouldn’t we have learned that by now? Or have we become unforgiving in the same measure of how ruthless were the despots that we thought them to be?

In fact, the most enduring lesson of democracy is to protect the right of everyone to speak freely, even those whom we may disagree with.

To insist on the exclusive validity of our own perspectives, and the unbending monopoly of our truth, would make our democracy nothing but sheer hypocrisy.

Our generation can only be responsible for our own time. With it comes the duty to look to the past with truthfulness and honesty and to move forward to the future with optimism and hope.

While past generations can prove to us the wisdom of their ways and folly of their days—it would be unfair on their past to believe that we can less ascertain the realities of our day.

In simple terms, Bongbong Marcos has a story that he alone can tell. Toni Gonzaga has served us well by helping him share that story to us.

In the same way that she has helped Robredo and Diokno tell their side of the story.

In the end, she did not attempt to silence any story, nor confound any truth—for on whatever side of the political cleavage each of us may stand, we will always have a lesson to learn from it.

After all, each of us has a story to share, and a lesson to live out every day.